Posted by Becky Carroll on February 1, 2008
Special Project: Jay Ehret of The Marketing Spot and Becky Carroll of Customers Rock!
Howard Schultz has returned to Starbucks and promises a return to the customer experience. We salute that announcement. Starbucks holds a special place in our heart and we want to do our part to help Howard get it right.
Inspired by John Moore’s 2007 Manifesto : WHAT MUST STARBUCKS DO?, Jay and I have decided to work with Howard (even though he hasn’t hired us) to help Starbucks improve their customer experience in 2008.
Today we begin a series of posts that will continue throughout the year. We will analyze the current Starbucks experience, make suggestions for improvement, and then compare at the end of the year. You are invited to contribute with your comments and suggestions; let us know what you see/don’t see changing about the customer experience at the Starbucks you visit!
Jay already has his post up, which includes a letter to Howard and some commentary. Here is my take on the “state of the Starbucks experience.”
It’s All About Customers
I am very glad to hear Mr. Schultz’s plan to put customers at the center of business decisions. Starbucks used to focus on being what they called the “third place” – not home, not work, but somewhere in-between the two where people could come to relax and talk. When I lived in the UK, I found something similar in their pubs. That was where people went to relax, have something to drink or eat, and meet up with friends.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Starbucks over the coming months. I understand that more details are coming in March. In the meantime, here are some Customers Rock! observations about the current Starbucks experience in my neck of the woods, San Diego.
One of the best things about the Starbucks experience is the baristas.
At every Starbucks I have ever gone into, the employees are always friendly, smiling, and helpful. They know the names of their regulars and chat with them upon sight. They are patient at explaining things patrons don’t understand (there is quite a lingo to learn). They always listen to kids when they place their orders, viewing them as important (and future!) customers. They are polite and quick to help when there is a problem (like a spill), never making someone feel bad. They apologize when there is a wait and thank you for their business. Starbucks, your employees rock!
They have a nice atmosphere with music and soft, comfy chairs in one area.
We always scope out those soft armchairs when we go in. They make the environment feel friendly and more like being in someone’s living room. (Not all Starbucks have this, though.) The background music is great, and it is kind of fun being able to see that on an iPod now (for possible purchase).
Room for Improvement Here
Improve the store navigation.
Starbucks, like other companies, has expanded their offerings beyond coffee and drinks. I find that this is often difficult to do well. In the case of Starbucks, their aisles are now so full of displays of coffee mugs, espresso machines, and bagged coffee that it can become difficult to navigate the store.
For example, I took this picture today during the morning rush. It was a little hard not to knock into some of the display items (a major concern for young moms with their toddlers) on my way to place my order in this queue. Harder still was navigating my way back out! I couldn’t go down this line in reverse, and on the other side of the display were the ordering stations.
One look into a Starbucks of late appears to be more of a retail shop than a coffee shop. And people hate being sold to all the time.
Encourage people to stay awhile.
More comfortable chairs (only a few of those aforementioned soft chairs are in each store, and some don’t have any) would be great. Also, if Starbucks is looking to encourage those with laptops, slightly larger tables would be handy (hard to put a laptop, coffee, and pastry on the table at the same time). One of my local Starbucks has a nice laptop station, like you might find in a library, with a long table which could accommodate multiple laptops. It has a power strip down the middle and some low lighting.
Jay also mentioned the high cost of WiFi, which I won’t go into here but do agree with as it is a great way to get customers to stay longer and buy more.
If employees aren’t too busy serving other customers or cleaning/prepping for later, they could offer to clear away cups, etc, for current patrons while they are wiping down tables. Just a nice touch to consider.
Decide what to do about the food.
I have seen press that states Starbucks will no longer offer the breakfast sandwiches because their aroma overtakes the wonderful smell of coffee. I haven’t personally noticed that, but I have noticed that most pastries are very dry. Choose the food you will offer (don’t forget to ask your customers what they want!) and do it well. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.
Most importantly, spend more time finding out what customers want.
What are the Starbucks customers’ needs and preferences? Mr. Schultz has referred to comments from baristas as a way he gets input on what works and what doesn’t, which is great! Talking to the front line employees is very helpful in finding out what to improve. However, I would like to see more effort spent on finding out what customers like by asking them directly. Perhaps Starbucks is doing a lot of this already (I do know they sometimes hand out special survey codes with receipts), but it isn’t being discussed right now in the press releases.
Talk to the different types of customers you get and see what each type would like to have. For example, those young moms might like to have a changing table in the restroom. Students, business people, and travelers will all have their specific needs as well. Who is the Starbucks target/ideal customer? Starbucks shouldn’t cater to everyone, but they should definitely understand their most loyal customers – and take care of them. If they can do that, there won’t be a need to offer $1 cups of mini-coffee or worry about losing customers to other chains.
What do you see?
That’s it for now. Jay and I will be keeping an eye on how the Starbucks experience changes over these upcoming months and will be reporting back what we observe. Please send in your observations, comments, and suggestions. Alternatively, comment on your blog and let us know; we’ll refer to your post with a link. I have seen some good links on Glenn Ross’s blog, including a reference to a barista blog.
Let’s help Starbucks get back to offering a fabulous experience!